Yesterday in Plymouth, Argyle’s lead administrator Brendan Guilfoyle said an incredible thing… no, wait, I know he’s been saying incredible things since the start of Argyle’s spell in administration in March (and some Luton and Crystal Palace fans might be prepared to go further back in history than that). But, even for Guilfoyle, this was incredible – in both the truest and general senses of the word: “If I need to speak to James Brent and the Contingency Group, I will do, but it will be a considerable challenge to deliver their offer. I undertook to talk with the rescue group on Saturday but some of the correspondence with it suggests they don’t understand the situation.”
This begged one question: “Whose fault is that?” That begged one answer: Brendan Ambrose Guilfoyle. Now, to re (mad) cap just a little bit. In May, Guilfoyle chose Bishops International Limited (BIL) as “preferred bidder” over local entrepreneur James Brent. This was on the basis of the preparedness to fund the administration and pay £1m for exclusivity in negotiations. Brent said he wouldn’t, unless all other potential bids failed and he was guaranteed that a deal for the club would be done.
BIL said they would… but didn’t. BIL, alongside PAFC (125) Limited, the new company formed by prospective football supremo Peter Ridsdale, were allowed to maintain exclusivity for months – and missed financial deadlines – on end, against (it would seem) the protocol of such situations. In July, Brent, backed by the recently-formed supporters’ trust ‘Argyle Fans Trust’ (AFT) and other supporters groups and willing parties, formed a “Contingency Plan Committee” (CPC) to “plan and prepare a coherent and sustainable contingency option for Plymouth Argyle Football Club, capable of being delivered at short notice should the need arise,” (Contingency Plan Committee’s ‘mission statement’).
The Committee have been in extensive, constructive correspondence with Guilfoyle ever since. And the idea that they “don’t understand the situation” doesn’t gain much credence from their regular public statements on the matter. Indeed, as contingency plan committee member Graham Clark said this (very early!) morning on the forum of the lively supporters’ website ‘Plymouth Argyle Supporters on the Internet’ (PASOTI): “I can assure everyone that we all fully understand the situation that he has left the club (in) should the BIL/PAFC 125 deal not complete tomorrow (Friday) or before the end of the month. His contractual obligation to extend the deadline to 26th August has left little or no time for any alternative acquisition to take place, or the liability position to be resolved.”
In response to comments suggesting that the CPC were ill-prepared, especially financially, Clark added: “It is not a question of funding being in place. He (Brent) has the necessary funding for his offer without borrowing. It is a question of securing all the necessary legal agreements with the administrator, the secured creditors, the Football Creditors etc… within a reasonable timescale. He has been legally excluded from the process to achieve these agreements since the beginning of May.” That last sentence remains the key problem with Guilfoyle’s attitude. Whatever he may say about his preferred bidders BIL and PAFC (125) having exclusivity, they have not, even now, paid the full £1m for that right – the £1m Ridsdale said was required back on the fourth of June.
Guilfoyle could, at any time, have engaged with the CPC to assist them in meeting their mission statement. He has actively chosen not so to do. On August 1st, the same day they publicised their mission statement and manifesto, the CPC reported on their correspondence with Guilfoyle. Whether this is the correspondence to which Guilfoyle referred yesterday is not clear. But the CPC’s understanding of “the situation” appeared very clear. The CPC reported that Chris Webb, the AFT chair who impressed many on-lookers with his handling of a lively supporters forum attended by Guilfoyle and Ridsdale in late June, had received a letter from the lead administrator on July 22nd, just over a month ago.
In it, Guilfoyle “(focused) solely on the level of funding required if a contingency plan was to be put in place.” Webb’s response, the following day, detailed the CPC’s “conditions that needed to be met, who was responsible for meeting each of them and the timetable for completing the (plan) and funding the club.” Had there been any misunderstanding of “the situation,” this was surely the time for any administrator (or at least one serious about having a proper contingency plan in place) to provide understanding. And, as it has turned out, there was plenty of time to provide it. Yet Guilfoyle merely “stated that he wished to focus on completing the sale to the preferred bidder and that he ‘cannot currently engage’ with the (CPC).”
One potential misunderstanding could have arisen here. Webb, creating some disturbing imagery, noted that “It takes two to tango and the Joint Administrators are not willing at this stage even to start pre-dance exercises with us.” There are, of course, three joint administrators – Guilfoyle ‘leading’ fellow partners in insolvency practitioners P&A Partnership, Christopher White and John Russell.
Could White and Russell have found time to complete the CPC’s understanding of the situation? At a standard hourly rate of between £320 and £435 per hour, one might have thought so. But apparently not. And Webb, who might now have been wearing his sarky boots, declared: “We can only assume that their unwillingness to engage with a contingency plan reflects their very high level of confidence that their preferred deal will complete.”
By the time some of you read this, of course, that “very high level of confidence” might well have been justified. And there is a universal hope that it will be. But whatever happens on the final, final, final deadline day of August 26th, it still seems incredible that Guilfoyle should be publicly discouraging a contingency plan to help save Argyle, at this late stage – a time when he should be as encouraging as possible. Yet that was what he was doing, yesterday in Plymouth.
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